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Giving credence to the saying, "While the cat's away, the mice will play," a new study indicates that pumas and medium-sized carnivores lie low when they sense the presence of humans, which frees up the landscape for rodents to forage more brazenly.
Humans are top predators of many wildlife species, and our mere presence can create a "landscape of fear," according to researchers at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Fear of humans suppresses the movement and activity of pumas, bobcats, skunks, and opossums, which benefits small mammals. As their own predators respond to their fear of humans, deer mice and wood rats perceive less risk and in turn forage for food farther away and more intensively, they found.
Study - Fear - Humans - Apex - Predators
The new study, "Fear of Humans as Apex Predators has Landscape-scale Impacts from Mountain Lions to Mice," appears in the July 17 online edition of the journal Ecology Letters.
"Humans are sufficiently scary to pumas and smaller predators that they suppressed their behavior and changed the way they used their habitats when they thought we were around," said lead author Justin Suraci, a postdoctoral researcher at UC Santa Cruz. "The most surprising part was seeing how those changes benefit rodents."
Findings - Humans - Lands - Globe - Ecologists
The findings are significant because as humans encroach on wild lands around the globe, ecologists are eager to understand the effects humans and development have on wildlife.
"We've spent 10 years learning how fear of humans drives mountain lion physiology, behavior, and ecology," said senior author Chris Wilmers, a professor of environmental studies at UC Santa Cruz and director of the Santa Cruz Puma Project. "This is the first large-scale experiment I'm aware of that documents how fear cascades through the food web from top predators to the smallest prey."
Research - Presence - Humans - Effects - Activities
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